Archives for the month of: March, 2019

Dr Zweder Masters tweets this picture of a mural in Utrecht. Apparently the artists, Jan Is De Man and Deef Feed, asked locals for the titles of their favorite books and incorporated the results into their painting.

Printing Impressions (via The Passive Voice) sends this analysis of trends for 2019.

They show that, despite all our fears of a few years ago, print book sales continue to edge upwards. Maybe we are all in a sort of holding pattern, waiting till something better than the ebook comes along, or maybe there is really some brain circuit function which likes to turn a paper page or whatever. I do believe that book printing will become ever more digital and shorter run. I expect we’ll arrive eventually at a place where it looks weirdly quaint that there were ever warehouses filled with books waiting for people to want to buy them. If, by then, people still want a printed copy of a book it will be printed for them after they’ve paid for it. This seems a vastly superior business plan to the hit or miss method we’ve evolved, however skillful we’ve become at managing the odds. Just set it up and let it run.

See also Print on demand.

My Modern Met shows us a typewriter which could type music for you. (Link via Shelf Awareness for Readers.) It looks horrendously intimidating.

The Keaton Music Typewriter was first patented in 1936 with a 14 key-arrangement, which was raised to 33 with a new 1953 patent. There were two keyboards: one a rotating keyboard with notes, and another, which didn’t move, with symbols like bar lines whose vertical alignment was constant. The fixed keyboard consists of the nine keys at the right hand end of the ring. The curved bar at the side enabled you to move up and down to place your note at the right height on the staff lines. Each notch on the bar moves the print head 1/24″ — the system requires you to have preprinted paper with the staff lines 1/12″ apart. A needle arrangement enables you to see where the next note is going to be typed.

Here’s a one-minute video showing the machine in (tentative) operation.

If you do not see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

It is assumed that most of these machines would have been used by music publishers and printers rather than composers, who would surely have found it much easier to write their music out by hand.

Music Printing History is a trove of information about the different techniques which have been used in reproducing music over the last 1,000 years.

See also my earlier posts Music engraving, and Typewriter music.

Notice of an exhibition about one of the foundational texts of social anthropology is delivered by HyperallergicThe Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians by Franz Boas and George Hunt was published in 1897, and, in the way of anthropology monographs, remains relevant to this day. These books are ageless: they provide a record of social structures which may no longer exist, and are our best insight into how societies were structured in the past. Bronislaw Malinowski, W. H. R. Rivers, A. R. Radcliffe Brown, Margaret Mead et al provide accounts of societies which no longer exist in their original pre-contact form, and their books will be being read by students of social anthropology for ever. They can’t be superseded, and whatever shortcomings one may regret in the interpretations made by individual researchers these monographs remain primary evidence. I had to read Boas (or at least consult the book) as an undergraduate. The potlatch and the images associated with Pacific Northwest Coast indigenous culture remain irresistible to students.

George Hunt was not credited on the title page. His contribution is noted on a sort of half-title following, where the book is described as by Boas “Based on Personal Observations and on Notes Made by Mr. George Hunt”. Hunt was a member of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw community, and his great granddaughter, artist Corrine Hunt has collaborated with the curator of this exhibition which highlights the role of the book in stimulating and rebuilding Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw culture. Apparently in the early 1920s George Hunt corrected and expanded the book. Hundreds of pages of unpublished revisions were stored away in archives after Boas’s death in 1942. These materials and others are being combined back into the book in a digital edition being prepared by Bard College and the U’mista Cultural Centre.

The Story Box will be running at The Bard Graduate Center on West 86th Street in Manhattan until July 7th.

Bookbinder Jeff Peachey brings us this image of an End Locking Loose Leaf Sectional Post Binder. It comes from an advert on a blotter. (You can see where the sunlight has yellowed the bit which wan’t buried under papers.) I used to have one of these desk blotters — before the days of Bic pens we had to blot everything we wrote because the only way to write anything was with an ink pen. My blotter was a superior leather version, put out by a bible bindery down in Cornwall. I once made the journey down to visit them, arriving all-a-tremble after some hair-raising driving by my Bible manufacturing colleagues.

A binding like this would live and have its being in an office situation. You’d need a hole puncher to prepare a new sheet for insertion: unscrew the bolt at the top of the post, open the book and insert your new page in the appropriate location. I can’t remember for sure whether or not the large account books I remember from the accounts department in Bentley House in the sixties were bound like this, but I bet the were despite what I wrote in my earlier recollections. There’d be a page for every book in one or more volumes, and every sale would be entered by a clerk perched on a high stool. Clearly the pages would need to have been placed in the book in alphabetical order, otherwise Mr Walmisley would never have been able to find his place when Bill Starling’s assistant arrived to tell him about that trade counter dale of Pericles.

An accessible book is one which should be capable of being read by people with vision, hearing, cognitive, or physical impairments. But making books accessible to people with disabilities that impair their ability to read sounds like a overwhelming problem for publishers. 

Bill Kasdorf, a long-time innovator, tells us in a recent Publishers Weekly article that making books accessible is neither as expensive nor as time consuming as we might assume. In fact he implies publishers already pretty much do it without realizing it. The coding we add to a book file in order to facilitate its output either as type or as a database item contains most of the tools needed for accessibility.

At bottom the difficulty in supplying books which are accessible to the disabled is the usual one with specialized markets. Publishers tend to be humane, even liberal, and would certainly like to “do the right thing”, but have to worry about making enough money to sustain their businesses. You can’t afford to print small runs of all your books directed at various small audiences. If you think of supplying books in physical form, the problem seems almost insurmountable, but digital publication appears to make the problem vanish. Want a large type version with blue type on a pale yellow background: you’ve (potentially) got it. Want it in 14pt Palatino? There you are. Want to have the text read out aloud? Again, theoretically, this can be available.

The potential market for accessible books is actually quite sizable. There are apparently 253 million people around the world with a vision impairment and 375 million with severe dyslexia. One eighth of the population of the USA can only read conventional print with difficulty. As the Book Industry Study Group’s Guide to Accessible Publishing (of which Mr Kasdorf’s article is basically a review) points out “There are more people with print disabilities globally than the total print sales for the Twilight and Harry Potter series combined”. Nor is the problem likely to go away soon: we all know how the population of the planet is aging, and the report asserts that about a quarter of people over 60 will have reading impairments.

Publishing digitally for people with print disabilities necessitates markup in the EPUB file to tag headings, footnotes, sidebars, or other text elements, as well as the imposition of a structure to enable proper navigation so that readers can move efficiently through the content. These features are basically what publishers already provide in order to make their files ready for output. Further requirements include enabling TTS (text-to-speech) so that assistive technology (AT) can be used. For blind users, a book’s images need to be described or they will remain invisible. Dyslexic readers will benefit from word-by-word highlighting synchronized with synthetic or narrated speech. For people with mobility impairments who may not be able to hold a book or turn a page, highly structured content enables efficient navigation through a text using special AT devices.

Preparing files to facilitate accessibility, going forward, is relatively simple, and presents the publisher with few additional costs — though additional costs there will be. “Born accessible”, like “born digital” requires relatively straightforward changes to work flows. However just as we experienced with the ebook revolution, dealing with legacy content — old books — is a serious cost sinkhole.

There may be a legal threat lurking over the horizon. The Americans with Disabilities Act, for instance, might be brought to bear on the provision of accessible texts. These are still early days in the digital preparation of text (twenty-five or thirty years is but the blinking of an eye) and as more and more new texts become “born accessible” the law may wake up to the fact that all of them might be.

Link to the PW article via Kathy Sandler’s Publishing · Technology · Innovation.

From a tweet by The Scottish Book Trust.


Here’s a reminder, courtesy of David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen, that color can mean different things to different people because there are multiple ways of measuring it. The video, by Tom Scott, who posts lots of videos on YouTube exploring quaint bits of science, is an introductory tour of The Forbes Pigment Collection at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard, conceived as a means of validating the pigments used in artworks.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post so that you can view it in your browser.

Little Golden Books were of their time — but their time refuses to come to an end. They were invented in 1942 to fill and fit the press owned by Western Printing in Racine, WI, and sold for 25¢ at a time when children’s books often retailed for about $2. Wikipedia tells us that the books originally had 42 pages, 28 printed 2-color and 14 four-color. To help save cost, Western and Simon & Schuster, the original distributor, dispensed with the nicety of turning the preprinted case cover over at the edges, and just trimmed the whole thing to allow the cardboard of the case to show at the edges. The binding was side wire, with a decorative strip wrapping down the outside of the spine to cover the staples. First printings were 50,000, and by 2001 when Random House acquired the line, one of the original titles, The Poky Little Puppy, had sold almost 15 million copies world-wide. (That price of 25¢ has gone up to $4.99, though the books are now four-color throughout, but only 24 pages long.)

They celebrated their 75th anniversary in 2017 with several events including a presentation at one of the Book Industry Guild of New York’s monthly meetings at which I received my copy of Puppy Princess.

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal”. We all know literary (or any other artistic) influence is essential to the development of art. Conscious or more often unconscious copying happens all the time. A hundred years ago people no doubt didn’t altogether approve of straight copying, but only rarely had to confront the evidence. If you are reading along in War and Peace, are you really going to check that tinkling bell by rushing off to read Evgeny Onegin all the way through to check on your suspicion that Tolstoy’s really quoting Pushkin? (This is a notional example. I’m not saying Tolstoy did, or did not quote Pushkin or anyone else.) But a digital world allows for word searches which can quickly bring such things to light. A special subset of this sort of search tool is plagiarism software systems, designed primarily to prevent students just copying and pasting in order to get to the required word count in their essays, and appear to have a solid grasp of the subject. I recently learned that many school pupils in Britain have to submit their essays with a plagiarism score attached. (I have not heard of publishers making this sort of demand of their authors, but who knows what goes on in the dark?) Now that it’s so easy to check the vocabulary and structure of any piece of writing, it’s not too surprising that lots of people are running this sort of check, and all sorts of “plagiarism” scandals can rise up to appall us.

Now it’s reached the top. Dennis McCarthy says he wouldn’t accuse Shakespeare of plagiarism after detecting an apparent source for bits of Shakespeare’s writing. The New York Times tells the tale. Plagiarism is a heavy charge, and you’d be crazy to level it at Shakespeare and expect not to be slammed by most of the academic community. So you decide to call it not plagiarism but creative influence.

Page from George North’s A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels which is claimed to be the source for some of the “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York” speech in Richard III. If they say so! Much seems to depend on the rarity of some of the words used and the order in which they occur.


Book Business links to a Guardian article on plagiarism. As the Helen Keller story illustrates having a good memory can be a burden. Of course having a poor memory can also be problematic as you fail to remember ever having read about this brilliant plot turn your muse is whispering into your ear.

See also Plagiarism, which contains a link to online plagiarism checkers.